Are you as satisfied with the work you do today as you were a year ago? Do you have fun doing your job? Do you work in a creative environment where coworkers trust and nurture one another? Are you proud of the work you do, and the products or services your company sells? Does your employer put the customer ahead of all else? If you're looking for a job, will you settle for less than a job that brings you joy?
As contrary as it may seem, most people in the U.S. workforce have some choice in what they do for a living and where they work. That means most workers can hold out for a job with some degree of intangible benefits such as personal fulfillment, positive corporate culture, and meaning.
But how do you negotiate for meaning?
Although there's no way to guarantee yourself meaningful work, here are a few guiding principles to help find and sustain intangible rewards.
- Find a job in the field that interests you most
- Find a good fit
- Contribute to the corporate culture
- Take responsibility for your own fulfillment
- Stay engaged even in hard times
Find a job in the field that interests you most
Reflect on the type of work you are doing. Do you pick up trade publications when you get home at night? Conversely, did you fall into your career by accident as if into a black hole, and now it's hard to escape its gravitational pull? When people who know you find out what you do for a living, are they surprised or do they say, "That seems just like you"?
Test your interest.
One way to determine whether you're in the right field is to read the Help Wanted section of your Sunday newspaper with a red pen in hand. Circle all the job descriptions that appeal to you, regardless of whether you have the qualifications to do them. Do you put circles around jobs like yours? Or do you avoid them? Do you consistently put circles around one or two types of jobs? Can you see yourself doing those jobs?
If you are not doing the right type of work, it will be difficult or impossible to find meaning, personal fulfillment, and other intangible benefits in your job.
Find a good fit
In addition to the physical characteristics of the organization (company size, industry, stage of growth, location, commute), think about the type of environment in which you thrive. Is it chaotic, or highly organized? Would you rather work by yourself, or in teams? Are you more process- or results-oriented? More expressive and creative or more businesslike and no-nonsense? Where do you prefer to be on the spectrum of consensus decision making versus command-and-control?
Also consider the organization's values - stated and actual - and its reward and recognition systems. What types of contributions are encouraged and rewarded? Is the employer buying what you have to sell?
Test your fit.
You can tell you're in the right type of company if you eagerly discuss work at cocktail parties, you've developed strong rapport with your colleagues, you feel appreciated, and people look to you for your take on the company's progress. You may not be in the right environment if you feel like an unwelcome misfit, you're consistently grumpy, and you rarely want to talk about work.
If you feel like a fish out of water, try to move do a different part of the organization where your work can have a greater impact. If this doesn't work, it may be time to move on.
Contribute to the corporate culture
You are part of the corporate culture, so it is within your responsibility to help shape it. Welcome newcomers. Revel in your coworkers' idiosyncrasies. Celebrate the completion of a project. Surprise your colleagues by bringing in a dozen doughnuts, or remembering important days.
Test your clout.
You can tell whether you're adding to corporate culture or taking away from it, by the types of interactions you've been having at work. When was the last time you patted someone on the back for a job well done? Do you frequently complain about the company, or are you more often an internal cheerleader? Do coworkers seek out your advice, or are they more likely to console you about something?
If you are putting constructive energy into the organization, it should be coming back to reward you in ways that are hard to measure. If your energy just seems to dissipate, or if it's turning negative, take it as a warning sign.
Take responsibility for your own fulfillment
Intangible benefits can't be quantified and handed over in a pay envelope - they're intangible, remember? And you have to help create them. Act, within your sphere of responsibility, to help keep your work environment constructive. If the workload seems overwhelming - for example, if you've been asked to take on a few of someone else's responsibilities - break it down into smaller, achievable tasks you can feel good about each day.
Test your commitment.
If your performance is strong, are you proud of the results, or are you just going through the motions? If your performance isn't strong, what are the reasons?
Your commitment to your job and your employer should be evident in the way you approach your work. If you've been unmotivated, ask yourself whether there are any changes you can make within your current position. Otherwise, consider making a bigger change.
Stay engaged, even in tough times
It can be tempting to put some distance between yourself and your employer if you face difficult circumstances. The last year has been full of uncertainty in the workplace, as many people have either lost their jobs or lived with the fear of unemployment. Corporate scandals and leadership crises have reduced confidence in businesses and called for universal introspection. But there's a difference between soul-searching and disconnection.
Test your presence.
Do you know what your coworkers are working on? Have you asked them about their work recently? Do you have lunch with a coworker at least once a week? Who initiates? Are you as accessible to colleagues as you would like to be, or as you used to be?
Difficult times call for leadership, not retrenchment. Whatever your position in the organization, you can take the lead in building a healthy culture by modeling integrity, commitment, and other values that are a reward in themselves.